IZ Pis’ma k V.V. Stasovu
FROM A Letter to V. V. Stasov
Iuliia Platonova, nee Garder (1841-1882), a soprano, was married to a military man named Tvanev. Platonova was her stage name. An opera singer, from 1863 to 1876 she was an artist with the Mariinskii Theater; later she became a voice teacher.
. . .
Musorgsky, with whom I became acquainted at my house, but had seen previously at Liudmila Ivanova’s1—with Lukashevich, Kondratiev, Kommissarzhevskii, Leonova, and Petrov2—charmed everyone with his extraordinarily sweet personality. To meet him was to love him. Even the obdurate enemies of the new Russian school involuntarily succumbed to his charm, saying: “What a nice fellow, this Musorgsky is; too bad he has gone astray in his music!” These were the words of Napravnik3 and of the artists who disapproved of the direction he had taken.
On Saturdays, the circle of admirers of this new music met at my home. Among the comrade-artists only Kommissarzhevskii came. He liked the opera Boris very much. Many others would be there too, but Musorgsky was the heart of the evening; he played and sang until the early hours of the morning. His declamation impressed more than just the connoisseurs of music. My husband and I recruited many more admirers for Musorgsky’s talent, and we did so by inviting people from all over to listen to Musorgsky. As a result we soon had a circle of fervent champions of his talent.
At that time Lukashevich was a passionate admirer of mine, and my husband and I used our influence on him to recruit him into our circle. We succeeded because Musorgsky’s fascinating talent had also affected Lukashevich. It was decided that Boris should be staged. But how? Following the proper channels, Musorgsky had formally presented his opera to the committee and the authorization had been denied.4
Having made up my mind to have Boris staged at whatever cost, I decided to make an outrageously audacious move. In the summer of 1873, when the Director Gedeonov5 was in Paris, when it came time to renew my contract, I wrote to him laying down my conditions, the first of which was to have Boris Godunov staged for a benefit performance; if this were denied, I would not sign the contract and I would leave! I did not receive an answer, but I knew very well that I would obtain what I wanted since the management could not do without me.
Gedeonov arrived, and his first words to Lukashevich, who met him at the train station, were: “Platonova demands unconditionally to have Boris for a benefit performance. What can we do? She knows I don’t have the right to stage an opera that had been rejected! Our only recourse . . . is to call another meeting, and let them study it a second time, for form’s sake, and perhaps then they will agree to let Boris through.”6
[The music committee rejected the opera again. Then Gedeonov, bypassing the committee’s decision, ordered the staging of the opera] and this was the first example of a director exceeding his authority.
[The next day, Gedeonov called Platonova] and started to shout: “Here we are, Madam, look at the extremes to which you have driven me! Now, I risk being fired from my job, thanks to you and your Boris! And what good you found in it is beyond me. I am a long way from sympathizing with any of your innovators, and yet, because of them I have to suffer.” “More credit to you, Your Excellency, that you, not personally in favor of this opera, are nonetheless so energetically defending its interests!” was my answer to him.
[After the Director’s order to stage Boris, another obstacle arose.] Napravnik, hemming and hawing, inwardly furious, came to the Director and told him that he did not have the time for the rehearsals since he had many other things to do. It was then that we decided to hold private rehearsals at my house, under Musorgsky’s direction. The Director ordered Pomazanskii to teach the choruses; Musorgsky eagerly began to work, lovingly studying along with us that music which enthralled us all; and in one month we were ready.
During the second performance, after the scene by the fountain, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, a sincerely devoted friend of mine, but by the calumny of the Conservatory members, the sworn enemy of Musorgsky, approached me during the intermission with the following words: “And you like this music so much that you chose this opera for a benefit performance?” “I like it, Your Highness,” I answered. “Then I am going to tell you that this is a shame to all Russia, and not an opera!” he screamed, almost foaming at the mouth, and then turning his back, he stomped away from me.7